four glasses of different beer in taste testing setting

Pilsners and IPAs are two very popular beer styles today, drawing the love and attention of many beer fans globally. These beer styles may be decades old, but not many beer lovers can properly differentiate between the two. Let’s change that, and we will start our foray with this quick answer.

The main difference between a pilsner and India pale ale is the fermentation technique employed in brewing both beers. Pilsners are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures, while IPAs are brewed using top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures. IPAs are also significantly more bitter than pilsners.

As simple as that may seem, it does not tell the full story – not even close. However, we will duly examine the difference between both beer styles in terms of their origins, properties, brewing process, ingredients, and popular examples. Read on for more information.


Pilsners and IPAs were not too far apart, with the former debuting in the early 1800s and the latter debuting in the late 1700s. However, they have very different origins. Let’s start with IPAs.

India pale ale was not first brewed in India – surprise, surprise! The beer was brewed in England but sent to India, where it became popular. But why was English beer being sent to India in the 1700s anyway? This is solely because of the British invasion of India. During the invasion, soldiers, of course, had to travel from England to India.

The soldiers soon started craving beer, which had become a popular drink in England. Unfortunately, the climate in India was too warm to support beer production. The only other solution was to get beer from England shipped to the country, but there was a major problem – beer was not “equipped” to survive the six-month journey over the Indian Ocean.

Eventually, an English brewer George Hodgson came up with a way to make the beer last longer. He added more hops to the beer, doing this because hops have been known to preserve beer and inhibit bacterial spoilage. For even better preservation of the beer, he raised the alcohol content. His method worked, even far beyond his expectations, as not only was the beer preserved for longer, the soldiers fell in love with the strong character of the brew. This was the beginning of the India pale ale as we know it.

Pilsners also came about due to a brewer solving a disturbing problem. In this case, the problem was the low quality of beers the Czech city Plzen was producing. Aside from the beer quality not being up to the best standards, the beers were spoiling before fermentation ended. This was rather disturbing for officials of the city, considering how much emphasis the city put on its beer industry.

The city recruited Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewmaster, to solve the problem. Bavaria was the home of lagers, and city officials believed the lager fermentation technique could revolutionize their own beer industry, and boy, were they right. Josef Groll used German noble hops Saaz, local hops in the city, brighter malt, and the city’s quality water to brew beer. This led to the debut of a new-look and quality beer in 1842, named pilsner, after the city.

Both pilsners and IPAs have had different substyles depending on where they were brewed, Americans, in particular, virtually made the beer styles their own, and today, the American pilsner and the American IPA are two of the most consumed beer styles.


Traditionally, ales are stronger in flavor than lagers. Also, the use of top-fermenting yeast means the production of esters and phenols, which further contribute to the strong flavor of ales. This same trend applies to India pale ales. This beer style has a relatively intense fruity, hoppy, and citrusy flavor. As there are many different substyles of the beer, the exact flavor profile depends on the beer brand.

Pilsners are not the most flavorful of beers, but their flavor profile is still strong compared to many lagers. They have a balancing flavor of hoppy presence and maltiness. Pilsner beers do not have a strong lingering aftertaste, but their high hop bitterness remains for a short period after drinking. The hops used in the beer contribute to its flavor, giving the beer spicy or floral notes.

Which of the two beer styles has the better flavor profile is entirely up to you to decide. The fact that there are several different substyles also does not make it easy to reach any viable conclusion regarding which beer tastes better.


Unlike traditional ales, IPAs are smooth. For context, ales don’t take nearly as long as lagers to brew, meaning the brew is relatively cloudy and quite complex as there is no time for suspended particles to settle. However, the use of pale malt means IPAs are smooth. The smoothness of pilsners was never in question, considering the beer is a lager.

Both beers have a medium body and medium to high carbonation. The area of major difference regarding the mouthfeel is the bitterness of the beer. This is not just measured arbitrarily, as the International Bitterness Units (IBU) is the official metric for determining beer’s bitterness.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), pilsners have between 25 to 45 IBU, depending on their substyle. Meanwhile, India pale ales have between 40 and 100 IBU, as well, depending on their particular substyle. By implication, IPAs are much more bitter than pilsners, and this reflects in both beers’ aftertastes.

The significantly higher bitterness of IPAs also means the beer has higher character and possesses more of a “bite” or “kick.” If you are not a fan of very strong beer, then you would prefer pilsners over IPAs every day of the week.


Ales have a unique fruity aroma derived from the yeast strain used. The fact that the hop bill in IPAs are at ridiculously elevated levels means the aroma is even more pronounced. The BJC describes it as a “citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, and/or fruity character.” Pilsners are expectedly not as strong on the nose as India pale ales, having light grainy character and a unique noble hop aroma.

Brewing Process

Pilsners are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus at cold temperatures between 35˚ and 50˚F. Since the yeast never rises to the top during the course of fermentation, the brewing technique is known as bottom fermentation. As with other lager beer styles, pilsners are allowed to age longer than ales. This corresponds to increased clarity of the beer.

Conversely, IPAs are ales and are brewed using the top-fermenting yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Fermentation is also done on the warmer side of the scale, between 60˚ and 70˚F.

A consequence of the yeast strain and warmer temperature used is that ales take less time and are generally more straightforward to brew. Again, the flavor profile is more pronounced with ales. This is even more so with IPAs, which have more hops than conventional ale brews.


Pilsners are lagers, while IPAs are ales. You may expect that the ingredients used for brewing the two beer styles are far apart, but that’s untrue. Both use the same basic ingredients. Let’s consider them below.

The yeast strain used in fermenting the beer is the basis of their classification as ales or lagers. Pilsners are lagers because they use bottom-fermenting yeast, while IPAs are ales because they use top-fermenting yeast. That’s basically it. However, because the beers use different yeast strains, they have different flavor and aroma profiles. Yeast is not the only factor contributing to these profiles, though.

Another factor that determines the taste and smell of beer is the malted grain used. Barley malt is the most commonly used grain for brewing beers today, and that has been like that since the inception of beer itself. There’s not much difference regarding malt, except that pilsners have their flavor profile more influenced by malts than IPAs.

The next ingredient we will consider is hops. Brewers use hops in beers for bittering, preservation, and obtaining particular flavor and aroma profiles. The more hops a beer style uses during fermentation, the more bitter the beer is. It is, therefore, no surprise to see IPAs a lot more bitter than pilsners as they use far more hops.

Common hops brewmasters use for brewing IPAs include Amarillo, Fuggles, Simcoe, and Goldings. For pilsners, the major hops used are Saaz noble hops.

The last basic ingredient is water. While pilsners were first brewed with water localized to the city, IPAs were brewed with just plain water.

Alcohol Content

Ales are brewed at warmer temperatures than lagers, which is a more favorable growth condition than in bottom fermentation. Therefore, ales are generally more alcoholic than lagers. IPAs manage to keep up with this trend as well. The BJCP states that IPAs have between 5 and 10% ABV, while pilsners have between 4.5 and 6%. Of course, the exact ABV depends heavily on the brand and substyle of beer.


The appearance of a beer is generally discussed using the Standard Reference Method (SRM). The higher the SRM of a beer, the darker it is. In terms of color intensity, IPAs take the lead, as confirmed by their SRM of 6 to 15, compared to pilsners’ 2 to 7.

Indian pale ales usually have a deep amber to a reddish hue. However, some substyles of the beer have a light yellow to golden color. Pilsners are renowned for their medium yellow to golden color.

Popular Examples Of Each Beer Style

Below are some common beer brands based on the pilsner and IPA beer styles.


  • Pilsner Urquell Beer
  • Heater Allen Pils
  • Tenner
  • Bohemian Pilsner
  • Firestone Walker Pivo Pils


  • Stone IPA
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
  • Alpine Beer Co. Nelson IPA
  • Fuller’s IPA
  • Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA